Understanding Bullying

Jan 3, 2023 | Blog, Helping a Loved One, Mental Health

Bullying, unfortunately, is all too common.  Bullying can occur to people of any age and can happen at school, work, at home, or in the public arena.  The latest estimates are that around 20% of kids between the ages of 12 and 18 have experienced bullying and that 19% of US workers report being bullied on the job.  (2017 Workplace Bullying Institute survey).  Bullying occurs when a person or group uses aggressive behavior toward another person in order to cause them harm or distress.  Bullying always involves an actual or perceived power imbalance and is typically repeated multiple times.  

Bullies use Intimidation

Bullies try to overpower and intimidate their intended target.  Some of the most common forms of bullying include:

Physical – Bullies often try to physically overpower their intended target.  This could include actual violence or the threat of violence.

Verbal – Verbal attacks are a common behavior of bullies.  The verbal attacks often involve the following:    

  • Criticism of Others – Bullies will often find some characteristic or physical feature of a person or group and then demonize that characteristic.  
  • Personalization of the Attack – Bullies tend to expand their criticism from a specific characteristic into a criticism of the whole person or group. 
  • Try to Isolate Their Target – Bullies tend to try to isolate their target.  This allows them to claim that their victim is not “one of us” and, as such, is deserving of scorn.
  • Use Public Shaming or Humiliation – Bullies often look to publically shame or humiliate their intended victim.  This allows the bully to claim superiority over their target.    

Sexual – Bullies can sexually overpower and intimate others.  This can include pressuring a person into performing sexual acts or publicly humiliating a person for not giving in to their demands.  

Emotional – Bullies can emotionally overpower others.  They may harass someone until their target is emotionally broken down or alternatively may emotionally withhold until they get what they want. 

Cyber – Social media has expanded the reach of bullying.  Now bullies are able to criticize and attack without the limits of time or space.  

The Purpose of Bullying is Power and Control

Ultimately, bullies are trying to gain power and control over those around them.  They often bully others in order to feel better about themselves.  By putting others down, they give themselves a false sense of being “better than” those around them.  

Some of the factors that frequently contribute to a person bullying others are:

  • Anger – Many people that bully others have difficulty with anger.  This can be a result of their own home environment, their temperament, or other issues related to their own life experiences.
  • Jealousy – Bullies often feel jealous of others and so they try to compensate by putting others down.
  • Fear – Bullies often are fearful of their own inadequacies and so they cover this up by finding the inadequacies in others around them.
  • Desire for Attention – Bullies may seek attention by trying to publicly demonstrate their power over others.
  • Reaction to Stressors – When bullies feel stressed, they may try to take out their stress and frustrations on those around them.
  • Prejudice – Underlying biases and prejudices can lead to bullying.
  • Peer Pressure – Some people bully others in order to “fit in” with the social group around them.
  • Inflated Sense of Superiority—Bullies tend to have a distorted self-image of “superiority” over others.


Effects of Being Bullied Can Be Long Lasting

Bullying can have a lasting effect on the person who is bullied.  Some of the impacts of bullying include: 

  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Anger
  • Decreased school or work performance

As a result, it is important to recognize the indications that someone is being bullied and work to get them help and support as quickly as possible.


Warning Signs of Kids Being Bullied

If you notice the following behaviors in a child, it could indicate that they are being bullied.  

  • Missing school or becoming increasingly anxious about going to school.
  • Complaining of stomachaches, headaches, or other physical ailments prior to going to school or attending activities where they are being bullied.
  • Unexplained injuries.
  • Lost or destroyed personal items.
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as cutting or running away from home.
  • Suicidal thoughts or gestures.
  • Loss of friends or becoming socially isolated.
  • Increase in tearfulness or expression of feelings of hopelessness, frustration, and anger.
  • Difficulty sleeping or having nightmares.
  • Increase in acting out behaviors.
  • Becoming angry, depressed, or emotional after spending time texting or on the computer.


Tools to Help Kids Combat Bullying
  • Avoid interacting with the bully – Minimize how long and how often you are exposed to the bully.  
  • Ignore the bully – Bullies tend to escalate their behaviors when you react.  If you ignore them they will often move on.  
  • Stand up for yourself – Be willing to stand up for yourself.  Don’t let the bully define you.  You are more than what the bully says you are.
  • Plan ahead – Have a plan of how you want to respond when the bully is present.
  • Build a support network – Remember that bullies try to isolate you, so build your own social network.  Join an organization or activities where you can develop healthy friendships.
  • Build your self-esteem – One of the best ways to build your self-esteem is to develop skills and confidence.  The greater your self-esteem the easier it is to disregard the bully.
  • Tell an adult – A trusted adult can intervene on your behalf and help you confront the bullying. 
  • Turn off social media – Cyberbullying is a growing problem for kids.  To minimize bullying, it is often helpful to turn off the noise that can come with social media.  


Understanding Bullying in the Workplace

 Bullying can happen at any age and in any environment.  When bullying happens in the workplace, it can undermine the corporate culture and lead to significant disruption in productivity.  

Bullies Can Create a Toxic Work Environment

One of the most common signs of workplace bullying is high employee turnover around the bully.  Some of the ways that bullying occurs in the workplace include:

  • Bully withholds information or training from others and then criticizes them for being “incompetent” or not “doing their job”.  
  • Bully identifies a mistake that a coworker makes and then repeatedly highlights this mistake to others.  They exploit a coworker’s mistake to make themselves look better.
  • Bully repeatedly criticizes their targeted coworker to other coworkers creating a schism within the organization.
  • Bully creates a culture of fear.  You are either with them or you will become the next target of their bullying.  
Steps to Minimize Bullying in the Workplace

In order to create a productive work environment it is important to minimize the opportunities for bullying.  Some of the steps that supervisors can take include:

  • If you have a high turnover of employees, investigate to see if bullying is occurring.  
  • Promote active communication within the organization. 
  • Cross-train employees so that you aren’t dependent on the bully for institutional knowledge.
  • Encourage active participation and dissenting voices.  Don’t allow the loudest voice to “win”.
  • Don’t allow retaliation.
  • Ask for feedback from employees.


New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.